Sunday, May 26, 2019

Conflict Resolution Family - 5 Tips

Conflict Resolution Family - 5 Tips

Conflict Resolution Family - 5 Tips to Supportive Communication

Introduction to Resolving Conflict in Families

Conflict resolution has a basis in many disciplines, including psychology, mediation, communication, human relations and even law. In this blog, we will look at conflict resolution in the family from a communications perspective. Communication may both trigger conflict in the family and be a means of resolving fights that go bad. Be sure to check out our other blog on conflict resolution in the family, entitled Family Fights & Fighting Fair: How to Peacefully Resolve Conflict.

In J. Rothwell’s text on Communicating in Small Groups and Teams, he looks at how to shape groups within the work context. We will look at the family as a group, and how you can help influence your family to become more supportive, which will help reduce the likelihood of family members being triggered into conflict, and help increase the chances of resolving conflict with and within your family. No one wants to be in a home with escalating conflict, so read more to learn some theory and techniques to help you resolve conflict in your family.

Conflict Communication in Families

The above text referred to Jack Gibb, who found patterns of communication that can end up leading to conflict. Specifically, he identified patterns of communication that instigate or decrease defensiveness. Defensiveness has been defined as “a reaction to a perceived attack on our self-concept and self-esteem”. See more information about defensiveness on our blog entitled Ending Blame and Defensiveness in Relationships.  Defensiveness goes to the root of how we feel about ourselves (see our blog on How to Be Self Confident) and how we relate to others. The more defensiveness we feel (both in ourselves and from others), the more conflict we will experience.

The Goal is to have a Conflict Resolution Family

Instead of allowing defensiveness to take precedence in our family relationships, we need to foster supportive communication patterns, which invite cooperation. 

1. Do Describe Positively; Do Not Evaluate Negatively 

Keep your face to the sunshine and you cannot see a shadow. 
Helen Keller

Some cultures focus on blaming individual’s rather than taking group-responsibility – such is the case here in North America. This culture of blame might even be worse with what has been described as Online shaming: the return of mob morality.  On the contrary, some aboriginal cultures, for example, believe that transgressions by an individual must be addressed with the entire community taking some responsibility (see our blog on Restorative Justice Principles).

In the family setting, it’s easier to blame someone else when we make a mistake than it is to take responsibility. It might be easier to blame someone else as we might be reacting in anger or we may feel embarrassment for what we did and may simply not be ready to take responsibility. The danger with this is that it can create a more hostile and unsupportive environment that will in turn lead to more blame and negativity. This behaviour will only backfire when you later become the recipient of it. The research mentioned in the above text focuses more on workplace environments, but it could be applied equally to families – the more we negatively evaluate others, the more defensiveness that results.

Alternatively, describe family members positively, including with praise, recognition and flattery. If you need to address behaviour that did not work for you, or made you uncomfortable, follow these ideas:
  • Use “I feel” messages, or at the least, messages from your perspective and not others
  • Describe behaviours in a neutral and specific manner, avoiding generalizations
  • Avoid disguised insults (ie. I feel like you are a bad husband or I feel like you hate me)

2. Do be a Problem Solver with others; Do not be Controlling

“He who agrees against his will, is of the same opinion still” 
Samuel Butler

When we tell people what to do, it is likely to lead to the 4 R’s: resistance, resentment, retaliation and revenge. The 4 R’s may have an undercurrent of what is called Psychological Reactance, being “the more someone tries to control us by telling us what to do, the more we are inclined to resist such efforts, or even do the opposite”.

To prevent a defensive family environment, we need to focus on cooperatively solving problems rather than controlling others. A great way of doing this is by following the steps in our blog entitled Constructive Confrontation.

3. Do have Empathy, Do not be Indifferent

Empathy begins with understanding life from another person's perspective. Nobody has an objective experience of reality. It's all through our own individual prisms. 
Sterling K. Brown

We are indifferent with family when we simply don’t care what they have to say. We might be looking at them when the speak, but we might not be reflecting or thinking about what they are actually saying. When we do not acknowledge someone else’s communication, we are said to have an impervious response (see Sieberg and Larson, 1971 cited in the above text).

Instead of being indifferent, we must show empathy to our family members, which means showing true care and concern for them. Rothwell’s text emphasizes the importance of trying to see the other people’s perspectives and to act accordingly. This is likely to create a more supportive environment, where conflict is less likely to occur, and more conflict resolution is possible.

4. Do treat others as Equals; Do not act Superior 

Here are the values that I stand for: honesty, equality, kindness, compassion, treating people the way you want to be treated and helping those in need. To me, those are traditional values. 
Ellen DeGeneres

Hopefully, these types of attitudes are not happening in your family, or you may be in a destructive relationship. However, one way that it might be more possible to see this superiority problem, is in how parents may treat kids as being inexperienced or unknowledgeable due to their age. Acting superior to your children might lead to resentment, and may decrease communication with them. Even if there are many things you may still need to teach them, communicate with them showing trust in their competence. Who knows, they might even surprise you!

5. Do use Provisionalism; Do not use Absolutes

Truth is a deep kindness that teaches us to be content in our everyday life and share with the people the same happiness. 
Khalil Gibran

Have you ever been with someone who tells you something that they believe to be true, but you have more information to invalidate their version of the truth? When we speak with complete certainty, we might instigate defensiveness in others. Another example is speaking with a relative who completely dismisses other’s perspectives, treating them as stupid. We know that someone is speaking in absolutes when they use the terms always, impossible, never or forever.

Alternatively, we might want to consider (see, we are using provisionalism in this statement) qualifying statements with possibly, perhaps, maybe, etc. Through provisionalism, we can side-step struggles to win in an argument. When we give freedom for other people to have a valid and valuable perspective, we can lessen the chances of defensiveness, and create a more supportive environment for communicating effectively, and resolving conflict.

Conflict Resolution Family - 5 Tips to Supportive Communication 

Conclusion of Resolving Conflict in families 

The big lesson here: avoid doing stuff that will frustrate and anger people! Defensiveness will lead to more defensiveness, and will escalate conflict.

We hope that this blog provides you with some ideas to prevent conflict in your family so that it does not happen in the first place. Family fights can have a big impact on you and the other members of your family. If you already experience high conflict in your family, try to shift patterns from defensive to supportive. Be sure to see our other blogs to address conflict in your family.


Conflict Resolution Family - 5 Tips to Supportive Communication 

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Stages of Conflict

Are you looking to learn more about the stages of conflict?

Introduction to Stages of Conflict

A great source to start to understand conflict, and specifically the stages of conflict, is the article by Louis R. Pondy, entitled Organizational Conflict: Concepts and Models (Administrative Science Quarterly, Vol. 12, No. 2 (Sep., 1967), pp. 296-320). Although the article is from the 1960s, the analysis is still applicable today, whether with respect to a conflict in the workplace, a separation or divorce or an international dispute. 

Be sure to see our blog on Levels of Conflict, which compliments the information here about stages of conflict.

Defining conflict

Conflict cannot be simply defined as some of the manifestations of conflict, like anger, stress or even behaviour such as hitting someone. Pondy suggests that conflict is best understood as a dynamic process made of a series of ‘conflict episodes’.

Pondy likens the definition of conflict to the definition of decision-making. In decision-making, the individual makes a commitment to a course of action gradually, often with multiple steps along the way. Conflict is no different, but takes place through “gradual escalation to a state of disorder”. He stated that the climax of decision-making is choice, and that the climax of conflict is open aggression. Fortunately, he notes that not every conflict leads to open aggression. This makes sense - think of all of the times that you have had disagreements with someone but they simple end with you saying “let’s agree to disagree”, or you noticed the conditions that could lead to a difficult conflict, and finally things “blow over” and lead to there being no conflict at all. For example, that time that someone took your place in line at the cafĂ©, but then realized it, apologized, and went to the end of the line.

Stages of Conflict

1. Latent Conflict

There may be multiple forms of latent conflict that are present before a conflict episode. Latent conflict may include, for example,
  • Competition for scarce resources (ie. there is only one job position being advertised but two of us are applying),
  • Autonomy control (ie. my manager is micro-managing me and I need freedom, or for the Trekkie fans, “Resistence is futile”). Also see our blog on bad bosses and hostile environments.
  • Goal divergence (ie. my colleague and I were put on a task group together, but we cannot reach a decision together)

2. Perceived Conflict

Conflict may exist with or without the perception of those involved. For example, there might be situations where people perceive conflict to exist, but after speaking, they realize that there was indeed no difference in opinions, and in fact, no conflict whatsoever. In this case, the stages of conflict do not proceed. This type of perception issue can be resolved through improved communication. See our blogs on Trust and Communication.

However, conflict may not be perceived or noticed when it actually exists. To become felt conflict, it must be perceived in some way. On the topic of hidden conflict, see our blogs on fearing conflict and conflict avoidance.

3. Felt Conflict

This stage of conflict is also known as the personalization of conflict, where conflict that is perceived, ends up having an impact on the person. The American recording artist Monica stated, “Don’t take it personal” - if someone were able to not take a situation personally, then it would mean that even if there were latent and perceived conflict, the conflict would not progress to the “Felt Conflict” stage. 

You may have felt this in your personal life, whereby you cognitively understand that there is a conflict between you and someone else, but you simply don’t care. In other words, long hair don't care; an expression which “emphasizes that the speaker isn't affected by what is meant as an insult but actually embraces the accusation”.

4. Manifest Conflict 

This stage is about conflict behaviours, which may be as overt as physical and verbal violence (see when fights goes bad), and as covert as sabotage, apathy or gossip. In order to understand if conflict has manifested, it is important to look at the context of the conflict. His article does however state that conflict is not manifested if one party is not aware that their behaviour frustrates the other person involved. This is where communicating with someone can make a difference in bringing that conflict to the surface, or by accessing the help of a mediator or conflict coach to assist you in addressing the conflict, when dealing with someone who is unaware of the impact of their behaviour, or if they are aware, but are unwilling to collaborate with you (see our blogs on Avoidance and Feeling uncomfortable? Set a Boundary). Although not mentioned in Pondy’s article, it might be useful to do a “perception check”, verifying whether or not your perception of the other person’s behaviour is based on an actual or mere perceived conflict.

5. Conflict Aftermath

If a conflict is resolved based on the interests and needs of all of those involved, then the parties may lay the foundation for a collaborative and healthy relationship (see our blog on when to choose therapy and when to divorce). However, if parties avoid issues, and the conflict is merely suppressed but not resolved, the latent conditions of conflict may be aggravated and explode in more serious form until they are rectified or until the relationship dissolves”. See our blogs on Conflict Escalation and Ending Blame and Defensiveness in Relationships. This reminds us that addressing conflict in a constructive way can lay the groundwork for healthy and happy relationships in the future.

Man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love. 
Martin Luther King, Jr. 

Conclusion about the Stages of Conflict

The stages of conflict help us look at conflict differently. Conflict is not simply the behaviour that relates to our perceptions of conflict. Conflict involves the context, situation or as we call it here, the conditions that lead to conflict. Conflict then needs to be perceived, and depending on whether we feel impacted by it or not, it then must be felt. Finally, when we are aware that we are impacting the other person, but we continue to act in the same way, there is manifest conflict. The same applies for when someone else is the one perceiving, feeling or acting. The key take-away is that we have a great deal of choice in how we prevent conflict, both before, during and after the conflict, based on the groundwork we lay. There are many stages at which we may intervene in a situation, or change our own reactions in a situation (see our blog on how to be confident - building an emotional air conditioner), to impact whether a conflict goes bad (when fightsgo bad) or whether it is resolved effectively (see top 10 tips to resolve conflict).

Conflict Resolution Family - 5 Tips

Conflict Resolution Family - 5 Tips Conflict Resolution Family - 5 Tips to Supportive Communication Introduction to Resolvin...